Isabella Levin ’17 grew up in Murrieta, California, just 60 miles south of Scripps, where, as she describes it, “the automobile reined supreme.” But a semester abroad in Paris her junior year, during which she learned to navigate the city by walking, riding the metro, taking the bus, and participating in the bike share program got the environmental analysis major thinking: What are some ways I might reimagine mass transit in Southern California?
“You connect to a sense of place and become part of a city through its transit,” says Levin. “In Paris, I found that my confidence grew as I explored these different forms of mobility.”
Her interest in mass transit grew during an internship with the L’Atelier parisien d’urbanisme, an organization that makes public planning policy recommendations based on analysis of population density, development, and tourism. Levin researched developments in sustainable technology for transportation, such as electric cars and portable battery packs.
“I thought, wow, this is really interesting, and maybe I can spend my last year studying urban planning,” she says. “My passions are sustainability and the environment, but it wasn’t until I had the internship in Paris that I decided to focus on transportation as my research area.”
Her focus has paid off. This November, Levin received the 2016 Ava Doner Undergraduate Scholarship from the Women Transportation Seminar’s Los Angeles chapter. The organization promotes professional development and networking for women interested in pursuing careers in transportation and urban planning, a traditionally male-dominated field. Levin is the second Scripps student to win this scholarship; Emily Audet ’17, an environment, economics, and politics major, received it last year for her study of urban planning as a tool to mitigate health disparities.
Levin was excited to receive the support of an organization dedicated to advancing women in transit planning careers. “Coming from Scripps, a women’s college focused on empowering women leaders, I really connected with the values the organization speaks to.”
In applying for the grant, Levin shared her work and observations from her Paris internship as well as her senior thesis project. Her senior project is an exploration of how a Los Angeles World’s Fair might create opportunities for building more sustainable transit networks throughout Southern California, such as driverless vehicles and expanded rail transit networks. Levin serves on the sustainability committee of an organization that aims to bring a World’s Fair to Los Angeles in 2022.
“We want the fair to focus on connectivity—how do we connect all the places and people given the size of the region? We hope we can create opportunities to rethink our transportation systems and bring about the transportation renaissance I’m arguing L.A. desperately needs.”
Levin plans to use her scholarship money to support a summer program or internship in urban planning before she commits to graduate work.
“I’d like to get some more work experience to fine tune exactly what it is I want to focus on,” she says. “But seeing mobility in terms of freedom, experiencing that as a woman and not being scared on public transportation—that made me realize what I want to do with my life.”